Monthly Archives: July 2008

After Life

After Life (also called “Wonderful Life” in Japanese) is a film about what happens when you die. I’ve been wanting to watch this movie recently because a few people close to me have passed away in the last year. I was originally introduced to this film a few years ago in Japanese class by a classmate who was a philosophy grad student. After Life has a somewhat positive view on the afterlife, so I thought it’d be nice to watch.

The film’s afterlife is actually really similar to the world as we know it. Seasons change, electricity goes out and people get cold when it snows. The difference is that new visitors to the afterlife have a week to choose their most precious (大切な!) memory to immortalize in film form. Apparently they’ll watch their memory and then go on to yet another afterlife where they keep only that memory with them.

The idea is both liberating and excruciating at the same time. You can forget all the bad things that happened in life and cling onto one great memory. But you also have to leave all of your life’s work and focus on the one most important moment of your life.

The film works in sort of a pseudo-documentary/narrative mode where the dead counselors help the newly departed choose their memories. What follows is a candid look at the lives of 10 or so people. Some won’t stop talking about their womanizing ways while others think it would be cool to choose Splash Mountain. Apparently a lot of high school girls pick Splash Mountain.

In the midst of all this, there’s also a plotline concerning the relationship between two of the counselors. It turns out the counselors are dead, too. They’re all people who weren’t able to choose a memory. There’s a love story of sorts going on between them which kind of begs the question: why doesn’t everyone just choose to stay in the limbo afterlife instead of making a movie memory? They could literally live forever. Maybe people living in the limbo eventually fall out of love or get bored and decide to end it? I could imagine a number of Hamlet-style soliloquies proposing “to choose or not to choose?”

One of the recently dead, a young punk, starts messing with the counselors. He asks if he can use a dream as his memory, or even just make stuff up. He’s sort of the voice of reason in the movie. He asks the questions that I’d ask and prys much more than the other deceased. While watching I realized that the actor was also Morita in Honey & Clover, another Japanese movie I recently watched. Apparently he’s also in Casshern!

After all of the dead people choose their memories, the counselors get to work making their memories into mini-movies. After Life works because of its absolute earnestness. It really seems like a true documentary where these people are choosing their ultimate fates. They seem completely genuine when they’re describing the happiest moments of their lives and genuinely happy to see those moments recreated on set with actors portraying them. It probably helps that the director did a lot of actual documentaries before working on this movie.

After Life is a great movie because it successfully suspends disbelief. For the 118 minutes of the film, I’m convinced that when you die, you make a movie about your life, watch it, and relive that memory forever. That alone is wonderful, given our uncertainty of the afterlife while we’re still living.

So yeah, that’s what I have to say about After Life. It’s quirky, funny, thoughtful and genuine. I really dig it.

Neat iPhone App: Shazam!

Let me tell you a little story.

While on my drive back from the grocery store today, windshield down and blasting some “Of Montreal,” I overheard some sweet tunes coming from a truck during a red light. Instead of yelling at the driver for the name of the tune (he might not have known anyway), I turned off my radio, fired up this app, Shazam, and held it out the window for a few seconds. The app came back at me with the song title, artist, and other junk:

And here’s a link to buy the song (if I ever wanted to…)!

Pretty cool.

Bat Attack!

Less than 4 hours after writing about The Dark Knight, revenge struck in the form of a bat flying around in my apartment. I’m not sure if this bat was sent as punishment for me not going to see Dark Knight again or what, but it freaked me out! It flew around the living room for a while, terrorizing me, then went to other parts of the apartment. Then it kinda crawled around on the ground for a while. I think it was trying to hide or look for high ground to start flying again.

Then I hatched an ingenious plan to open a window and have the bat fly out of it! It worked!

I really have no idea how the bat got in, since the only windows open were the ones with screens. Maybe the bat squeezed through one? Or maybe it was a lame assassination attempt? We may never know the truth!

The Dark Knight: In IMAX!

I went to see The Dark Knight in IMAX last night. It was pretty good. I mean, as far as movies go it was probably one of the best I’ve seen in years. But there was so much hype leading up to it that the movie was kind of wasted. My co-workers were really psyched about the movie. So listening to them continuously talk up the movie had its effect on me, I guess. If I had come in with no expectations, the movie would’ve been incredible. It still was, and it met the hype, but sometimes I feel the best way to go into a movie is with no expectations at all.

When I went to see Wall-e a few weeks ago (or maybe it was just last week), I had no idea what the movie was about. Okay, so I knew it had a robot in it. And that was about it. I ended up enjoying it a lot! I think we, as viewers, should just let the damn story tell itself. No spoilers, no trailers, maybe just a title.

Knowing as little as possible about a movie going into it probably gives the best chance for me to enjoy it.

Hardcore Rails/Server Troubleshooting Session!

So early last night, I noticed that one of my sites, Anime Nano, was flipping out and throwing 502 proxy errors. I tried to do some simple troubleshooting but it seems as though the problem came very suddenly, and I figured it might go away very suddenly as well. The thing about this particular problem was that I had made no changes to the server. So the problem should fix itself! Unfortunately, life is not so simple.

When I woke up in the morning, not only was the site still throwing errors, it was also affecting my other websites as well. MapsKrieg, Notecentric, Basugasubakuhatsu, etc. So I figured I should find out what is going on. I sent a support request to MediaTemple, my host, in case it might’ve been something on their end. It took a while for them to reply, but they eventually just told me it was something taking up all the memory and that I should try to optimize the site. Not too helpful. But I don’t really expect MediaTemple to provide this kind of support anyway. And it turned out it wasn’t their fault.

Upon closer inspection, the site was really behaving weird. I could tell by the logs that the site was actually rendering things, but it always took about 189 seconds. This was odd. I’ve had experiences before where the rendering took less than a second but the page still took more than 3 seconds to load. But 189 seconds! That was a bit too much.

I had suspected it was something to do with the mongrel cluster that I had set the site up to run on. Basically, I followed the script that MediaTemple provided and I still don’t have a great understanding of how mongrel cluster works. That’s definitely bad.

I tried stripping the view of everything but the content for layout. I got rid of before_filters and tried running the site on the mongrel clusters as well as the webrick server on port 3000. The same thing happened. It took way too long for the site to load. Thinking it might be easier to test on my local machine, I got the site and database from svn and mysql and, strangely, it worked fine on my PC.

Now things were slowly fitting together. I was reminded of a post that someone made on Anime Nano about how their feed wasn’t being aggregated into the site. Apparently their feed was unreachable from my server. I had previously chalked this up to weirdness on their server, but I wondered if it wasn’t a problem on my server. The thing about each pageload taking almost exactly 189 seconds pointed to a timeout issue. Then I realized there was a piece of code in Anime Nano that I hadn’t written. It was a plugin for Text Link Ads that I used for some ads on the bottom of the site. That plugin was grabbing a feed of ads and parsing it to show links automatically on the site.

If their site was unreachable, it’s possible that Anime Nano was just waiting on grabbing that snippet of code and timing out. And that’s exactly what happened. I commented out the text for the ads and the site immediately started working again. I’ll have to look into how I can prevent this from happening again before reinstating the ads.

So what did I learn from this whole experience? You should probably understand how code works before randomly integrating it into your site (I added that code a long, long time ago and forgot about it). Also, relying on a third party to provide some information before loading your site is just plain stupid. I can’t believe how badly thought out I had made the organization of the site.